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Northwest Wheat Farmers Struggle To Plant In Lingering Drought

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Anna King
/
Northwest News Network
Wheat farmer Andy Juris says his fields have gone without rain since early June.

In some areas of the Northwest, dryland farmers are getting impatient. They need rain to plant winter wheat.

Federal agencies released their weekly drought update Thursday. It shows unbroken extreme drought conditions for much of the Inland Northwest.

This summer’s heat and drought brought poor yields. On Andy Jeris’s farm near Bickleton, Washington, just a breath of teasing rain has fallen in months. The drops have evaporated, but their craters still pock the ground between the stubble.

Juris demonstrated this by scraping the ground in his unplanted wheat field: straight dust to the hardpan.

Wheat farmers have resorted to telling wry jokes. Juris picked this one up in town.

“He was out in the barnyard and a big drop of rain just came right down, hit him on his forehead and knocked him out cold,” he said. “His wife had to run and get a big bucket of dust in his face to revive him.”

Farmers in the foothills here, can delay planting until November, snow or frozen ground.

“Definitely if we don’t get any wheat in in the fall that’s a lot more we have to try and do in the spring,” Juris said.

And that would cost him in lost yield.

The 15-day forecast at Juris’ place? Nothing but bluebird skies.

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.